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Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,476 ratings  ·  421 reviews
On September 1, 1894, two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping more than two thousand people. The fire created its own weather, including hurricane-strength winds, bubbles of plasma-like glowing gas, and 200-foot-tall flames. As temperatures reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, the firestorm knocked down buildings and carried flaming debris high ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 14th 2007 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 2006)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Will Byrnes
Oct 24, 2008 rated it liked it
This book tells the tale of a devastating conflagration that wiped out the town of Hinckley in the year 1894. The relevance to today as much of our country goes up in smoke cannot be overstated.

Daniel James Brown - image from Washington University Libraries

There is much information here that was news to me, details about prairie fires. Much of the book is taken up with a novelistic recreation of the actions of a host of real people, some of whom survived the event, most of whom did not. I found
Apr 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I ever have kids - and ain't that a notion! - I will never let them play video games or watch violent movies or do any of the other things I was so happy to do as a child. That's because I am acutely aware of how a young mind can be indelibly molded by the experiences of childhood. My current (and undiminished) obsessions with the Titanic, Custer's Last Stand, and the Alamo, all flow from my early introduction to these harrowing stories of men and women in the last moments of their life, enac ...more
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
On September 1, 1894, a combination of dried tree branches, scorching temperatures, a Canadian high front and a complacent citizenry combined to create the perfect forest fire that leveled Hinckley, Minnesota, a small lumbering town halfway between St. Paul and Duluth. The town lost nearly half its population, some of whom suffocated, many of whom burned to death. This tragic story and its aftermath is told readably and well in UNDER A FLAMING SKY (2006).

Author Daniel James Brown, who would go
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
All of my life I've heard about The Great Hinckley Fire and have seen multiple pictures of the monument but I never knew much about what happened other than my great-great grandparents were able to escape with my great grandfather and his siblings. I've always wanted to know more but never really knew where to look since I'm in Ohio and have never been to Minnesota. In High School we had to write a play or novel based on a historic event and I wrote mine based on the fire and actually almost fai ...more

I just realized the other night that I’ve been back in my home state of Nebraska for a full year after a warm five year respite in the South. That means, since its now November, this is going to be my first full winter back. It started slow last year, which suited me fine, but it culminated in one 8 inch snow, and then a final 2 inch snow in the beginning of May. Now, for the first time in years, I’m going to sit through the whole thing. Already the temperatures swing back and forth,
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I loved this book! My Dad recommended it to me along with my Sister. Unbelievable. It was a book I thought about and keep thinking about. Sad when it was over.
Lauren Hiebner
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Much like the story of the blizzard of 1888, it details how the fire started, how it affected people both physically and psychologically, and puts one in the middle of a mega fire storm. Great read!
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could almost categorize this under "horror," for all the people went through. I had never heard of this fire before reading this, although considering the number of deadly fires Brown describes later in the book, I suppose that's hardly surprising. Indeed, the thing that most impressed me from this book is the sheer number of decades that passed after this horrific event before restrictions were finally put in place on logging companies to try to avoid like catastrophes. Hundreds and hundreds ...more
Crystal Pacific
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Under a Flaming Sky is a sad yet true story of a fire in Minnesota many years ago. It was recommended to me by a very close friend. I'm glad that he was able to share this sad, yet incredible story with me. ...more
Ginny Messina
May 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: disasters, history
In late summer of 1894, towering flames stretching many miles wide ripped through a string of small communities in northern Minnesota, obliterating the towns and killing hundreds of people. In the town of Hinckley, people escaped on two trains, one of which was already in flames by the time it pulled out of the station in a desperate attempt to reach a lake 5 miles away.

Author Daniel Brown grew up with this story since his grandfather survived the fire as a child. If you liked The Children’s Bl
Margaret Jenkins Colangelo
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. I didn’t fully comprehend this horrific fire until reading this well researched account. I should have known from the writing skills that this is the Boys in the Boat author.

Daniel James Brown expertly conveys the not only the human experience, but the science of fire, the logging industry that made this conflagration possible, the railroads that provided quick escape for some, and the medical realities of the victims.

Jana Richards
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not the type of book I normally read but I was fascinated from the beginning. As someone who has always been very nervous about natural disasters, this book caught my attention and I am amazed that I have never heard of these events before. I give 5 stars to only a very select few books. I judge it on how much I keep thinking about the book afterwards and how much I continue to talk about the book with others.
Jaclyn Knight
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
***Mature readers with strong stomachs only***
I picked up this book because I had read another book by this author (wrote Boys in the Boat) & loved his writing. And because even moreso it’s about the little town of Hinckley, Minnesota - not too far from where we lived. You will either drop this book quickly because it is so disturbing to you - or - not be able to put it down right from the beginning. It’s like a sci-fi thriller (a genre I never read so I’m surmising) that you won’t believe happe
Colleen Oakes
Nov 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The greatest (wait, no...the happiest) surprise of my year might be that I've become a fan of a non-fiction writer named Daniel James Brown. In general, non-fiction is not my bag; I'm a fiction fan, the more fantastic the better. However, I love Jon Krakauer, and now I have another author to obsess over: DJB. Under a Flaming Sky came out before The Indifferent Stars Above (a masterpiece), and it's obvious he has grown as a writer since then, but it's still a hella good book that captures the sud ...more
Mary Aune
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
During a discussion after Thanksgiving dinner of the recent California fires and the tragic loss of lives and property, this book title came up. I was immediately interested because it was history related and I had nothing to read. I borrowed the book from my hostess with her advice that it is difficult to read.

The author did an outstanding job telling of a horrific fire that swept through Hinkley, Minnesota in 1894. It was difficult to put the book down but I felt like I needed periodic breaks
Brent Burch
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I would have to agree, with some of the other reviewers of this book, that this is a straight up horror story. In almost an instant, the lives of everybody who lived in Hinckley that day were forever changed. I can't imagine what I'd do if I came out of my house and there was suddenly a wall of flames at my door, and not just in one direction, but seemingly all around you. Daniel Brown has a personal interest writing this book, since his great grandfather died in the blaze, but he weaves an extr ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Devastating fires killed more than 400 people and destroyed over 350,000 acres of land in 5 hours in 1894. Through a historical overview and personal stories, author does a good job of portraying the devastation in the loss of human life and in property damage. I look at this as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when rules and regulations devised to preserve the environment and promote safety are not in place. And the country at this point seems to be moving backwards on these points with ...more
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
I read this book solely because this was the same author who wrote the phenomenal Boys in the Boat. Highest praise is probably to say I was not disappointed. This is a gripping tale, well told, radiating earnest love and respect for the people who died and suffered and filled with stories of the kind of heroes who rise up when a horror like this strikes. Mind you, it is a grim and grisly read and made me initially question the nutritional value of reading, somewhat voyeuristically, about a horri ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was captivating. It tells the story of a massive wildfire that incinerated a city in Minnesota in 1894. People ran for their lives, some trying to escape aboard flaming trains, others seeking to immerse themselves in lakes or in root cellars. Many died. This book is not for the faint of heart: it details many gruesome deaths as well as the heart-breaking aftermath. But it certainly was gripping. 4.5 stars.
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is really a 4.5 book for me. Extreme Story, well written. It has changed the way I understand humanity and challenges. Grateful the author remembered and honored his grandfather and great-grandfather. Highly recommend this book but, don't read it if you are in the mood for a fluff book. This book does open up your heart and makes you think. ...more
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a nail-biter, edge-of-the-seat read. Especially while there's smoke outside from wildfires! Then, it was hand-over-mouth...and then tears... SO tragic. But I felt compelled to read and to finish reading it, even through the tough parts. My heart hurt reading about those families so long ago...and for the families today, going through this. Wildfires and firestorms are still happening. I live in the woods and have had been on evacuation notice a couple of times. Thank goodness, fire scie ...more
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It took me a very long time to finish this, because it was so horrific (and by horrific, I mean the content, not the writing), it made me physically anxious. I loved it though. It was incredibly comprehensive, following a small group of people and how they fared during the fire, as well as after.
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What an engrossing book. Makes the fraility of life very obvious. The stories of what happened to the poor people in the towns is heart wrenching.
Jennifer Ladd
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
An unbelievable piece of history. Hard to read at times knowing the outcome. Not good reading for the faint of heart. Some gruesome details of death by fire and burns.
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I can't get enough of this author! ...more
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really engrossing book that kept me hooked all the way through. Learned so much more about wild fires and how out of control they can become
Nov 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Before satellites and better weather tracking, summer fires could blow up to be massive killers. This is the story of a tragic one that the author's grandfather survived as a child. Well-researched, this is the story of the people and the land and the strategies of the time.

The first few chapters introduce a LOT of people, and you know going in that many of them won't live much longer. Their stories are told by the survivors, and this book honors them in a way too. That said, it is a bit overwhe
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
While the huge firestorm at Peshtigo, Wisconsin in 1871 was, as far as is known, the largest wildfire ever to hit this continent, with the greatest loss of life ever recorded of such a fire, the 1894 firestorm at Hinckley was remarkable for a number of reasons. The first was that it was the last such great fire in what had once been a vast conifer forest spread out across what are now the states of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and southern Canada. The Peshtigo fire burned o ...more
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
In 1894, a ferocious firestorm swept through northeast Minnesota, wiping out a number of towns (the biggest one being Hinckley), killing hundreds, and leaving many hundreds more injured and homeless and destitute. The author, whose great-grandfather perished in the fire, does a great job here of combining the accounts of the survivors into a cohesive narrative. When people saw the fire coming, they reacted in a number of different ways. Some hid in their cellars or jumped down wells, some were a ...more
Dee Eisel
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Stephanie Jackson,
This is a fantastic book. It's sadder than sad and unflinching as it looks at the horrible things that happened to so many people on that September day in 1894. Brown has a close personal connection to the fire, and the introduction about his grandfather waking up screaming decades later caught my attention right away.

Brown covers the science of fires, but instead of giving it its own chapter he masterfully weaves it into the fabric of the story. I found myself actually holding my breath at some
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Hi Folks, I wrote this book... 6 62 Feb 16, 2012 06:25PM  

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Daniel James Brown lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, where he writes nonfiction books about compelling historical events.

Brown's newest book--Facing the Mountain--follows the lives of four young Japanese American men as they and their families bravely confront harsh new realities brought about by the onset of World War II. Facing the Mountain comes on the heels of Brown's New York

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Even nonfiction can hold the stuff of nightmares. Whether it’s natural disasters, outbreaks of plague, or serial killers hidden...
99 likes · 61 comments
“A fact is not a truth until you love it. —John Keats” 3 likes
“I lingered a bit longer. The tug of kinship held me there, bound me to the place and to a man I had never known, but without whom I would never have been. I conjured up his image one more time, and then laid back to rest. The late summer darkness drifted down from the sky like a warm mist, enveloping me and the graves before me,uniting us in its soft embrace. The world spun eastward beneath me, and the darkness deepened and spread over Hinckley, over Minnesota, over the American countryside, covering all of us in the same black shroud, tenants in common, tenants of time.” 3 likes
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